There is a scene in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises when Bruce Wayne (after a defeat at the hands of the angeldust-addicted Bane) is imprisoned in a pit in the middle of a desert, and his only way to get out of this prison is to climb out of it. The pit, you see, has a few bricks where one attempting to flee can balance before jumping to the next stone to get to the next stone, and so on and so forth. Wayne, who is used to being amazing at everything, goes up, thinking he’ll be able to escape in one attempt. Instead, he ends up failing over and over and over again before he finally learns he must fear death in order to leave the pit. Of course, he does, saves Gotham and shags Catwoman…
Cal, in this instance, is Bruce Wayne. I don’t mean that Sonny Dykes must fear death before taking Cal to the Rose Bowl, or that Jared Goff will end up shagging Catwoman before the end of his time in Berkeley, but the Cal program is at the bottom of a very large pit in the middle of a desert, and today proved that things must change in order for Cal to even get close to getting out of the pit.
Yesterday, Washington State beat Cal 44-22 in a game that reminded me a lot of the scene from The Dark Knight Rises. Basically, I felt like Cal was continually attempting to climb out of the pit, and they’d get closer with each attempt, but never quite get to the top. They’d run a few good plays and then fumble at the one; they’d run a really good series and have to settle for a field goal; they’d stop the Washington State offense, only to turn the ball over right away. It was frustrating to say the least.
I sat there, sweating profusely under the Berkeley sun, watching the team cough up chance after chance against a good, but beatable, Cougar team who was out there fighting for something. All I could see, was Bruce Wayne reaching for that last brick, trying to catch that one piece of rock that would help him elevate out of the hole he had been shoved down. I don’t doubt that Cal will eventually do it, as The Caped Crusader did, but I know that this won’t be the season that gets Cal out of the pit.
Cal’s defense didn’t play horribly today, which was a silver lining, but they still allowed Conner Halliday to go 41-of-67 with three touchdowns and throw for 521 yards. Halliday stayed consistent in his inconsistency, looking amazing at times (I specifically remember the 68-yard touchdown reception by Marcus Mason before the half as the production apex of Halliday’s day), but also having more than a few bad patches during the game. He was good for yet another turnover today, in the form of first half interception, but it was for nothing as Cal didn’t really capitalize on it.
Jared Goff countered with his own stellar day, going 32-for-58 with two touchdowns, one interception and 478 passing yards. I think his big day, which came against a really good Cougar defense, was partially a response to the coaching staff who actively announced that Zach Kline was going to be in the conversation for the start. They let the two split first-team reps this week, for crying out loud. Those things don’t sit well with quarterbacks at any level, let alone at the helm of a program like Cal (which sits in the best division in arguably the best conference in the nation). His best drive, in my opinion, was the one with about a minute and change left in the first half, when he was zipping the ball into his receivers hands and making the smart decisions. His receivers, sadly, didn’t help him out, and the team had to settle for a Vincenzo D’Amato field goal.
What disappointed me the most about the performance, was that Cal’s running game again was ineffective and quite horrible. As a team, Cal rushed for 79 yards on 29 carries, the bulk of which came from Brendan Bigelow’s 41 yards. No one scored on the ground. I had made it a point to say that the ground game had to be effective in order for this team to have a chance to win. They didn’t, and Cal lost. At least Bigelow looked shifty in his few chances to shine, but shifty doesn’t equal yardage. Daniel Lasco didn’t do much either, rushing for 20 yards on six carries, but he didn’t look good on those carries.
The biggest take away from this game is that, while statistically Washington State had a great game, they played one of their worst games. And even like that Cal still looked to be far away from even competing with a team like the Cougars. That’s a little depressing. Not because Washington State is horrible, but because in a deep division like the Pac-12 North, the gap between teams 1-5 and Cal seems gargantuan. Not hopeless, and not impossible to overcome, but gargantuan.
Washington State’s win puts them at 4-2 on the season heading into their final six games. They will need two to gain bowl eligibility (something that Mike Leach should be commended for if he is able to get those two wins) and three to put themselves firmly in the post-season mix. They should be able to accomplish going .500 in the last six games, as they dodge UCLA and will play beatable Oregon State, Arizona and Utah in Pullman. They probably don’t beat Washington, Arizona State, and definitely not Oregon.
Cal, on the other hand, will not be playing in December. They needed to win five of the last eight to have a .500 record and a shot at the bowl games, and now they would need five wins in the last seven games. However, they still have away games at UCLA, Washington and Stanford, and a home duel against a USC team that has more than enough tools to beat up on the battered Cal defense.
One day, Cal will actually pull themselves out of the muck and rise to the top of the pit, but not this season. They won’t be playing in the postseason, they probably won’t end the season win a marquee upset of one of the four ranked opponents they have yet to face, nor will they have a shot at having a season to build on. Cal has to right the ship, but I just don’t know how.
Until then, I guess I can just play the music video I would have played had Cal beaten Washington State today. Why? Because I don’t know the next time Cal will win a football game and I don’t want to wait until basketball season to play this gem.